Chemours announced Wednesday that it is challenging the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory for GenX, one of dozens of so-called forever chemicals found in high concentrations in the Cape Fear River and in drinking water wells in Cumberland County.
Chemours, which operates a plant that produces GenX in Bladen County, said it has filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to review the new GenX health standard of 10 parts per trillion in drinking water that the EPA set on June 15. The previous interim standard, set in 2016, was 140 parts per trillion.
“Chemours supports government regulation that is grounded in the best available science and follows the law,” the chemical company said in a news release. “The health advisory issued by the US EPA for HFPO-Dimer Acid (“HFPO-DA") fails on both accounts. When an agency misuses its authority to promulgate a health advisory that is scientifically unsound, in a manner contrary to the agency’s own processes and standards, we have an obligation to challenge it, administratively and in the courts.” HFPO-DA is a scientific term for the brand name GenX.
Under a consent order entered into by Chemours, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and Cape Fear River Watch in 2019, Chemours had been bound by the court to provide either public drinking water or a whole house filtration system to any homeowner whose well tested above the interim standard for GenX of 140 parts per trillion.
According to the state DEQ, the new health advisory will require Chemours to provide public water or whole house filtration to another 1,700 homes in Cumberland County, which could potentially cost the chemical giant millions of more dollars in pollution-abatement measures.
Chemours ordered to sample downstream
In developing the new health advisory, the EPA relied on data that showed a link between GenX and adverse effects in the liver, kidneys, immune system and fetuses and babies of laboratory animals.
Chemours disputes the research, saying in a news release Wednesday that “HFPO-DA (the scientific name for GenX) does not pose human health or environmental risks when used for its intended purpose.” The company also said that “based on nationwide data published by the EPA, present-day incidences of HFPO-DA in the environment are minimal.”
As of May, sampling of wells in Cumberland, Bladen, Robeson and Sampson counties has found that more than 5,000 homes qualify for under-the-sink reverse osmosis systems to get rid of GenX and other potentially carcinogenic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known collectively as PFAS. Another 245 wells were found to contain GenX above the old threshold of 140 parts per trillion.
That number is expected to swell to about 2,000 under the EPA’s new health advisory and could grow even larger under a new order by the DEQ in November that requires Chemours to expand its PFAS sampling to wells downstream of the chemical plant, which lies near the Cumberland County line on the banks of the Cape Fear River.
"The contamination from Chemours extends down the Cape Fear River into multiple communities and Chemours’ actions to address that contamination must reach those communities as well,” DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser said in a statement back then.
Chemours disputes the research
When it issued the new advisory in June, Chemours said in its release, the EPA relied on a human health toxicity assessment for GenX from the prior year that was “materially different” from a GenX toxicity draft published in 2018 under the Trump administration.
“The October 25, 2021, Toxicity Assessment arrived at a reference dose 26 times lower than what had been proposed by EPA only a few years earlier,” Chemours said in its release. “Despite the material difference between the two versions of the HFPO-DA Toxicity Assessment, EPA did not provide public notice or allow for public comment on the new Toxicity Assessment, instead issuing it as final.”
According to the release, Chemours and “external experts” reviewed the October 2021 toxicity assessment and “identified numerous material scientific flaws, including its failure to incorporate available, highly relevant peer-reviewed studies and that it significantly overstates the potential for risk associated with HFPO-DA.”
What are forever chemicals?
Forever chemicals are used to make a variety of everyday goods, including firefighting foam, food packaging, rain gear and stain-proof carpets. They are called forever chemicals because they don’t break down easily in the environment, if at all.
Almost all Americans have some level of PFAS in their system, though blood tests conducted by N.C. State University found that some types of PFAS in the blood of residents in Cumberland and New Hanover counties was much higher than the national average as a whole. Those studies did not find GenX in residents’ bloodstreams.
In its news release, Chemours says HFPO-DA (GenX) is not a commercial product but rather one used by the company to make four types of fluoropolymers, which it calls “essential to produce semiconductors, mobile phones, hospital ventilators, and countless other products.”
DEQ has scheduled an in-person community information meeting on July 26 at the Crown Theatre. Registration is open at 5:30 p.m,. and the meeting starts at 6.
The intent of the meeting is to share information and answer questions about how the EPA’s newly revised lower health advisory for GenX affects drinking water well sampling in Cumberland, Bladen, Sampson, and Robeson counties.
Jason Brady contributed to this report.
Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.